Monday, December 19, 2011

Russian Tea Cakes

or Mexican Wedding Cookies

These are the same cookie with two different names.  Makes me suspect the recipe has been around for donkeys' years, traveling with pastry chefs all over Europe, the only change being altering the nuts by region.  Where powered sugar comes into it all, I don't know.

But these make quick, tasty, surprisingly sophisticated cookies.  Unlike the walnuts in chocolate chip cookies or brownies, these nuts are not optional.  The bitterness of the finely chopped nuts creates an balance of sweet and bitter for an interesting and satisfying cookie.  The key - the nuts must be chopped finely - no big chunks please!   I confess, I used to make these nutless - not understanding the role of the bitterness, and the resulting cookies had a whole different texture and a sweet but boring flavor.  Add the nuts, you'll be glad you did!

The powdered sugar always gets everywhere.  Sooooo worth it!

Recipe - Russian Tea Cakes / Mexican Wedding Cookies

stand mixer / hand mixer & bowl
rubber spatula
large snap-top lidded container
baking sheet (+silpat)
regular spoon

1 C (2 sticks/8oz.) butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 C powdered sugar
2 C flour (+ pinch of salt if using unsalted butter)
1 C chopped walnuts (or pine nuts/hazelnuts/almonds...)

1 C powdered sugar - for the outside

(If your nuts need to be chopped, food processor all the way - OR - break out a cutting board and big knife, and chop away until you have small pieces - nothing bigger than a mini-chocolate chip.  Alternately, place them in a sturdy plastic bag, crush with a pan or rolling pin.)
Beat the butter smooth in the stand mixer.  Add the vanilla and sugar at low speed.  Scrape down the sides of the mixer, and make sure everything is well combined.
On low speed add the flour, and then the chopped nuts.

Preheat the oven to 325˚F
Use the spoon to scoop up dough, and roll into about 1 inch balls.  (You can make them smaller or larger - just adjust the cooking time.)
Place them about 1 inch apart on the baking sheet/silpat. (No need to grease - plenty of butter in these cookies!)
Bake for 20 minutes (check for very light browning on the bottom.)

When the cookies come out of the oven, let them cool until you can just pick them up.  Pop them into the powdered sugar in the snap-top container.  Shake them around to cover the cookies.
Open the lid, use a fork to roll the cookies gently in the sugar and pick them up.  Shaking the cookies in the powdered sugar while they are still warm gives them a frosting layer.  The final roll gives then the fluffy powdery layer.  Using the fork as a lifter prevents fingerprints.

Nibble a few.  You deserve it.

A simple recipe like this begs for variations - pine nuts work with citrus extracts and citrus zest in the dough.  If you use almonds, replace some of the vanilla with almond extract.  If you use hazelnuts, mix the powdered sugar for the outside with cocoa powder (1:1).  Try peppermint extract, and then crush candy canes with the powdered sugar for the outside.   Have FUN!

No comments: